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Meet Kwame: A new silverback coming to Woodland Park Zoo

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

Male gorilla, Kwame, will become new leader of gorilla family group

We are very excited to welcome a new gorilla to Woodland Park Zoo this September: a male named Kwame (KWA-may) who will be coming from Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Kwame is 18 years old—right in the age range when males typically assume the role of silverback, which is the head of a gorilla family group.
Keepers at Smithsonian’s National Zoo think Kwame is one of the most handsome silverbacks they've ever seen. We are inclined to agree. Photo credit: Skip Brown/Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Silverbacks, which are so named because of the silvery hairs that grow in when an adolescent male comes of age, play a critical role in gorilla families. They protect, they lead and they maintain peace in the group. It’s not natural for an established gorilla family to live without a silverback. The Gorilla Species Survival Plan, one of many conservation programs that spans across accredited zoos and aquariums, made the recommendation to move Kwame to Seattle to provide stability for one of our groups.
Nadiri and Yola late last year. Photo credit: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
2-year-old Yola, 22-year-old Nadiri who is Yola’s mom, and 17-year-old female Akenji have been without a silverback to lead their group since 40-year-old Leo passed away suddenly in March. Since his death, the zoo has been searching for another silverback to step into Leo’s role.

If you have followed little Yola's story, then you know all about the incredibly dedicated team of animal keepers who are, without a doubt, world-class animal care experts and profoundly compassionate and determined humans. Their expertise will again be key to navigating Kwame's introduction to this group and we'd like to thank them for their dedication and energy for the smoothest and most comfortable transition for these animals. They are in the best care.

A gentle giant

Kwame wanders through the grass at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Photo credit: Skip Brown/Smithsonian’s National Zoo

According to keepers who’ve known Kwame his whole life, becoming a leader is a role he is more than ready to fill. Kwame was born at Smithsonian’s National Zoo where he currently lives in a bachelor group with his younger brother. Kwame’s name originates from West Africa (Ghana and the Ivory Coast) and means “born on a Saturday” because he was born on Saturday, November 20, 1999. He is nearly full grown at 315 pounds and the care staff at Smithsonian’s National Zoo say that Kwame really is a gentle giant. He may look intimidating, as he loves to show off with theatrical displays. But once he settles in, they tell us we will see that he is a stoic, tender, sensitive and intelligent gorilla. 

“We are confident that he will be a capable and appropriate leader of his new group at Woodland Park Zoo. All of the social experiences that Kwame has had during his life have prepared him to succeed in this new role,” said Becky Malinsky, assistant curator of primates at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. 
Kwame is ready to take on a new leadership role. Photo credit: Skip Brown/Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Getting adjusted

When he gets here, Kwame will live behind the scenes in the gorilla dens, and he won’t be alone. One of his keepers, who he knows well, will travel with him and will stay for a few days to make sure he’s comfortable. Plus, he’ll have immediate visual access to his new gorilla group to ease his transition and help him get to know the females who will make up his new family. Sharing the same physical space could happen in a matter of days, or weeks depending on a number of factors.

Woodland Park Zoo’s mammal curator, Martin Ramirez, says that introductions between new gorillas take time and patience—allowing for our animals to move at their own pace. “As we do with all of our animal introductions, we’ll follow the social and behavioral cues of our gorillas. We hope to have Kwame in the public outdoor exhibit in the fall,” said Ramirez. 
Kwame is a stoic, tender, sensitive and intelligent gorilla. Photo credit: Skip Brown/Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Until then you can click here to see video of Kwame (along with other gorillas at Smithsonian’s National Zoo) enjoying one of his favorite treats: popcorn balls, which are small plastic balls filled with popcorn. As the gorillas tip and shake them, a popcorn treat comes out of a hole in the side of the ball. The video also shows the gorillas enjoying other enrichment items including hay feeders, boomer balls containing diced fruits and veggies, and burlap bags filled with hay and diced food items.

All gorillas are endangered, but there are several ways you can help protect them.

All gorillas are threatened by habitat loss, wildlife trade, hunting, disease and human conflict. Critically endangered and losing ground every day in the wild, gorillas need our help. Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the western lowland gorilla and mountain gorilla through the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Make your voice heard to protect the Endangered Species Act

Click here to add your name to a letter opposing rules changes currently under consideration that would weaken the Endangered Species Act.

ECO-CELL recycling stations are at both zoo entrances. Photo credit: Woodland Park Zoo

Recycle cell phones for gorillas

Come recycle your handheld electronics with us through ECO-CELL to preserve gorilla habitat. By reclaiming the minerals in your electronics and diverting them from landfills, we can reduce demand for mining in gorilla habitat. Bring any old cellphones, MP3 players, or tablets hanging around your house to the zoo and drop them off at our ECO-CELL stations located at both zoo entrances.
A gorilla ZooParent adoption directly supports daily care and conservation around the world. Photo credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Adopt a ZooParent gorilla

ZooParent adoptions—which can include a plush toy—are the perfect gift for budding conservationists. Your ZooParent adoption helps us provide exceptional care for all of Woodland Park Zoo's amazing animals. Plus, your support contributes to our conservation efforts at the zoo and around the world.

Visit the zoo

Every visit to Woodland Park Zoo helps support our conservation efforts. We know many of you are eager to visit Kwame and watch as Yola, Nadiri and Akenji welcome him to their group. As time allows, and the gorillas settle in, we'll let you know when Kwame and his crew are on exhibit together—and we'll keep you up to date on their progress right here. 


Michelle said…
Wonderful news!